Editorial: The America the world sees is a once-great nation falling

When candidate Donald Trump was running for the presidency, the nation’s worst fear was that, if elected, he would rule as the demagogue he has become.
That he would lie continuously as a way to confuse and confound his supporters, that he would lash out at all opponents with unsubstantiated criticisms for the sake of sullying everyone (as he did in the Republican primary) so that his supporters would believe all politicians are as bad (no, worse) than he, and that—having suckered his most loyal supporters—he would rule as the tyrant he has always fancied himself to be.
The genius behind Trump’s reign, so far, is his ability to keep the faithful from fleeing, despite horrendous decisions. The Republican Congress and party leadership have tossed in the towel. Trump is the party, and party members are aligned with what Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, called “a cult of personality.” Equally guilty are Trump’s supporters, who have all too often turned their backs on values dear to Americans of all political stripes: human rights, civil rights, a proclivity to support our democratic allies and stand firm against Fascist dictators; the expectation that government wouldn’t abandon those most in need; and reasonable compassion toward immigrants who seek asylum as a matter of life or death.
Trump keeps his faithful hoodwinked by a steady stream of falsehoods and misdirection. He rarely stands still long enough for the public to seize on an issue, figure it out and rebel; and he constantly changes his tune when things go awry.
Such is the case of the damning optics of small children being separated from parents who were seeking access into a country which has for most of our history been willing to accept cases of hardship. Today, the vast majority of asylum seekers aren’t accepted, but there has long been an organized process and those who knocked on our borders were treated humanely and with respect.
Not so under Mr. Trump. His behavior and his policies have shamed America.
In the eyes of the world, we are becoming a pariah nation; a nation that would rip crying children away from heartbroken and fearful mothers; a nation that embraces the most ruthless dictators as friends, while treating our allies as foes; a nation who goes back on its word, rejecting the Paris Climate Accord, the Human Rights Commission, the Iran Nuclear Arms agreement (and others) — not for any clear policy objective, but to toss out any prior achievements of others to create a world order of his choosing, all the while subjecting this country to a more dangerous future with fewer friendly allies than ever before. That is Trump’s America, and yours, if you support him.
Trump will pivot on his policy to separate terrified children from their anguished parents. He’ll suddenly discover he’s had the power all along, and like Presidents Obama and Bush before him, he’ll issue an executive order that directs the nation to be humane. Shamefully, he will, no doubt, try to take credit for alleviating a crisis he caused and blame others for his harsh policies.
But this incident projects an ugly image of Trump’s America into the world’s conscientious as few other policies could. As politicalcolumnist Frank Bruni wrote this week: “Few aspects of American policy define us in the eyes of the world as sharply as our treatment of immigrants … We can be tough, yes. But cruel? That’s not in our interests, not if we care to maintain the global sway that we have. Not if we want to hold on to who we are or mean to be: people of generosity and mercy. Not if we’re invested in that ‘shining city on a hill’ that Ronald Reagan so poetically evoked.
“He (Reagan) and other presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, saw America as a beacon. They trafficked in inspiration. Trump traffics in fear.”
Know, too, that Europeans and allies around the world watch news reports of American politics much more closely than Americans do of those countries — and those reports, as from the BBC or other respected sources, seek to reveal how Trump is governing and whether he has the public’s support. To that end, it’s important to reflect on this first-hand report from Vermont’s congressman, Rep. Peter Welch, who took a trip to the Texas-Mexico border to inspect Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and see first-hand what all the fuss was about.
Here’s his report and what our allies, and foes, are watching throughout the world:
“Last weekend,” Welch wrote, “I traveled to the Texas-Mexico border to investigate the administration’s unconscionable family separation policy. This is what I witnessed:
• I saw dozens of children penned in chain link cages silently staring straight ahead. No smiles, no laughter. None of the joy characteristic of children.
• I toured a government-run migrant processing facility aptly dubbed the “ice box.” Children wrapped in foil-like blankets huddled on floor mats to stay warm. I witnessed three young brothers clinging to each other, as if for dear life.
• I met with a group of mothers just separated from their children. When the first began to speak of the pain she was enduring not knowing where her daughter was, the others began to sob as if on cue. One woman told me, ‘With God’s help, I will be reunited with my baby soon.’
• Inside a windowless former Wal-Mart converted into a cavernous shelter, I saw 1,500 boys warehoused and alone. There was not a parent in sight. They were allowed outside for two hours each day.
• I was barred from visiting any of the detention facilities housing girls, or infants and very young children who, in an Orwellian twist, are labeled by the government as “children of tender age.”
Rep. Welch elaborated on his experience:
“Parents in Vermont and around the world have one thing in common: Each of us will do whatever it takes, at any cost, to protect our kids from harm and secure for them a better future. The parents I met on the border were no different.”
“Contrary to the president’s tweet storms,” Welch continued, “they were not criminals, rapists, or gang members. They were not “animals” as he has asserted. They simply seek a safe haven for their kids free of gang violence, human rights abuses, domestic violence and desperate poverty. 
 “The president’s shameful decision to criminalize the act of seeking asylum and separate innocent migrant children from their parents is an atrocity that flies in the face of everything we stand for as Americans: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’
“Until Wednesday, President Trump blamed Congress for his policy, claiming he was merely enforcing existing law and that only Congress could change it. That was a lie. Despite his apparent retreat, I have no doubt he remains intent on using these innocent children and their parents, as well as the Dreamers, as leverage to get his way on extreme immigration proposals, including spending billions of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary border wall that he promised us would be paid for by Mexico.”
That’s the vision of Trump’s America the world sees. It’s not a vision of strength or greatness, but of cruelty and weakness by a narcissistic leader who is morally bankrupt, but it’s also a vision of the millions of gullible supporters too blind to see through Trump’s con. It’s a moment that presages the fall of America’s greatness in the eyes of many across the world and here at home.

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